Review: Sasquatch: the Opera – Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday August 17 2017

Three Stars

An opera based on the Bigfoot legend is precisely the kind of off-the-wall creative fare on which the Fringe was built. The fact that said experimental opus is the brainchild and passion project of Roddy Bottum, the musician, composer and keyboard player for the hard rock band Faith No More, gives the piece a further curiosity value it might not otherwise have had.

This UK premiere is performed in near-darkness, wreathed in smoke, on a frustratingly small stage that sometimes struggles to accommodate all 11 performers and a six-strong band. Arguably, the most gratifying way in which to enjoy Bottum’s dark fairy tale is with the eyes closed, so rich and strange is the score in comparison with what is on offer visually.

Sasquatch The Opera Images (c) Jonathan Grassi 1

Pic: Jonathan Grassi

The production marches to a steady, almost unbroken rhythm, played live by Geoff Crowther on drum machine and accompanying simple keyboard refrains that gradually incorporate layers of digital sound and live timpani and brass. The whole thing builds to a disconcerting noise-scape that is absorbing to the point of mesmeric. The addition of skilled vocalists, notably when the chorus joins in with the principals, achieves a truly gorgeous blend.

 

The story is rather more take-it-or-leave it, an archetypal mixing of the Beauty and the Beast myth with the lonely yearnings of Frankenstein’s Monster. The children of a family of hillbillies escape from their tyrant father (Joe Chappel) and run off to the woods. While the boy (Tristan Viner-Brown), who has been forced to impersonate the mythical forest creature in order to scam money from tourists, descends into drug addiction, his sister (Bonnie Baxter) meets and falls in love with the real Sasquatch (Mari Moriarty, whose vocal performance is wonderfully uncanny, imbued with melancholy).

Sasquatch Rehearsal
Photo- Jonathan Grassi

Pic: Jonathan Grassi

Bottum’s libretto is a little po-faced, sometimes unintentionally funny in its glibness, though there are sparks of lyricism, notably in the solo passages featuring Moriarty. The more serious problem is the lack of movement or invention in the director Ahmed Ibrahim’s staging, which rather strands its actors in motionless tableaux. All the talents onstage (including Bottum, playing synths) deserve more elbow-room; at present, everyone and everything seems plonked rather than carefully placed in the space.

 

The overall package is theatrical Marmite. On opening night there were standing ovations as well as a steady stream of walkouts.

 

Box office: 0131 560 1581, to August 27

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